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March 29, 2009

Nutballs

This morning I woke up and Bob was lying beside me, his fluffy orange backside curled around with white feet and his perfect pink toes were the first thing my eyes focused upon.

I didn't move or stretch, Soba was warming my feet and Frankie the cat was stretched out from my shoulder to my hip, filling the dip in between. I sleep on my side and on cold mornings I usually awake to find a furry someone stretched out alongside me, perching on the human mountain, the heater. My little fur blanket.

I never will understand people who don't love animals. I've been animal-mad since I was born, my dad can tell you stories about me and my first cat Betsy Ross. I dressed her up in outfits and pushed her around in a pram and still she was my happy friend, the heroine of all my stories. I named her after the cololest woman I'd ever heard of, nevermind that she was a he. When I was nine it was the two baby cows on the farm, Kermit and Piggy. We bottle-fed them and I can still remember their big brown eyes, the way they tugged the bottles, their velvety strange noses and rough tongues. I love dogs, too. And I once had a turtle named Emory who I watched with great fascination and told him all my secrets. But it seems it's me and cats who match up best in city life.

It's this odd perfect, weird kinship. Here are these little four-legged fur-covered creatures with respiratory systems and circulatory systems and they live here in this house and they make noises I have come to predict (Frankie whines when she wants attention, Bob squeaks in the mornings) and they sleep in my house and eat food in the kitchen and chase around elastic hair ties through the house and fuss over who sits on my feet. They sleep all day and greet me at the door when I come home and we're a family, kind of. I know I can't be the only one. It's not something you'd put on your online dating profile but it's true. And when I meet people who don't love animals I don't get them. Probably the same way they don't get me.

You know I get embarrassed to mention but sometimes I still get crazy crying lady eyes when I think about Roy, My Favorite Animal Ever. You can't tell that to people, they think you've gone nutso. But there's something so pure and clean about loving a pet. You never have to doubt each other, or have The Conversation, or worry about infidelity. Animal friends are the most loyal friends. When Roy died I thought I was going to have to take antidepressants or something, I was that knocked off kilter. He was my best friend for ten years. He slept on my pillow every night for ten years. He was my always-there guy. And then one day he wasn't, and it broke me in half. People, I cried more over losing that damn cat than I ever did over losing my ex-husband. Only animal folks get it.

And when I look at my little furballs now I think they are tiny miracles and weirdos. I love meeting up with people in my neighborhood while they're out walking the dog -- petting dogs on the morning walk is a major benefit of living in my neighborhood. Animal people soften their edges. My neighbor a few doors down used to be known as Crackhead Bob, the one who set his house on fire. Now he's just Bob. He adopted two stray little neighborhood cats a year ago, took them in and fed them and named them and someone who can take in an animal and feed it and name it... well. They get points.

My mom called me the other day and we were talking and out of the blue she said, "I didn't understand when you were losing Roy how hard it was on you, but now that we have ol' devil dog here, I cannot even imagine. I am so sorry." And even though Roy has been gone almost two years I still just hung up the phone and cried.

Animal people are crazy old fools, aren't we?
Crazy old softie fools.

Posted by laurie at 10:46 PM

Top ten nonsense. The part that is funny is that I have not gone missing, just merely insane.

1. I have to produce a manuscript from my nether regions in two days. I am not sleeping. Not because I am writing but because I am praying for earthquakes.

2. Which seems to be working. There was a "swarm" of earthquakes around the Salton Sea last week and just this weekend a whole 'nother swarm near Chino Hills but Lord if you are listening what I need is The Big One, circa now, circa the Encino-adjacent region, no injuries, just massive disruption in manuscript-sending email abilities. Thanks. Love the orange blossoms ... good job on spring.

3. Also is there something wrong in your life when you are praying for a MOTHERFREAKING EARTHQUAKE?

4. Don't answer that.

5. I saw Julie Newmar -- the original Catwoman -- on Saturday and I was like, "Do I know her? Is she my old neighbor from when I lived in Studio City that time?" People, there is something wrong with my celebrometer. Anytime I see someone famous I forget I live in L.A. where famous people grow, and I just think, "Do I know that girl? Did we go to high school together?" which is exactly how I found myself asking Sandra Bullock if we used to work at Disney together one night in a bookstore in Studio City wherein Dweezil Zappa came and rescued her from me, crazy lady, and I was suitably embarrassed. And also, hey, that was Dweezil Zappa!

6. Writing books is a stupid idea. Who does that anyway? Random people just go on amazon.com and pretend to be authorities in litterture and leave their comments about said book with no concern at all to how long that person wrote the book or loved the book or tried REALLY REALLY hard not to suck and because of that now I am hesitant to even say if I slightly do not love a movie because it might get back to the person who wrote it and they will hide under their covers with their cat eating peanut butter from a spoon for a week. NOT LIKE I KNOW OR ANYTHING.

7. I just want to be someone else. Is that so wrong? Like I wanted to be cute little perky Sabrina Bryan when she was on Dancing With The Stars and in luuurve with Mark Ballas and doing cha cha. Or Lindsey Monroe from CSI New York. But I once heard this crazyass theory that if you took a group of people and tossed all their problems out into the open on a hillside and let each person in the group see each other's problems, then you told each person to go out and pick from all the exposed mountain of problems ... each person would run to grab their own bag of crap. Is that true? Are the perfect ones hiding a mountain of problems I would never want to carry around? I do not want to believe this. I do not want your US Weekly tabloid revelations! I want to believe there are people out there living perfect lives!

8. I tried to meditate again. It went like this:

"Ok, I am going to focus on my breathing, in and out. Just sit quietly and breathe. In. Out. Good! In, out. Oh. My leg itches. Is it OK to scratch during meditation? I am breathing. In. Out. And breathing. In and out. And itching. GOT TO SCRATCH. OK! just scratch and get it over with then you can meditate. (scratch scratch scratch yum) In. Out. Breathe. I am meditating! Breathe. Focus on in and out. Exhale. OH MY GOD I FORGOT TO CALL THE DENTIST AND CANCEL. SHIT. Are they going to charge me? Because that stupid ticket for turning right on red which is TOTALLY FREAKING LEGAL was over four hundred dollars and I doubt the cats want to eat ramen noodles all month! MEDITATING SUCKS!!!!!!"

"Breathe in, breathe out...."

9. How is it that when people tell you, "You should be happy that...blah blahblah..." you just start lawyering up and arguing for the insanity defense? It's funny. When someone tells you HOW you should be or feel, it has this weird inversely opposite effect where you start really defending your unhappiness. Why is it so easy for other people to tell you how to be? Is this why monks go off alone in search of solitude?

Makes you wonder.

And finally, a top ten list with ten items!!!!

10. Last week my dad called and said he was converting an airstream trailer into a tamale truck and I said, "Dad! You should get someone to make you a big airstreamy metal sombrero and then you could weld it to the top of the tamale truck!" and my dad was all, "Yes, but we should weld it on top slightly askew, like a sombrero askance..." and in that moment I realized I may never win a Pulitzer but I at least come from a family who all prefer their sombreros welded askance. Or askew. Whichever.

And somehow that was a very comforting thing.

Posted by laurie at 10:31 PM

March 23, 2009

Which one of these things does not belong in a kitchen?

soba-on-fridge.jpg

She is either:
A) Communing with her higher power

B) Establishing her reign as our overlord

or
C) Pretending to be a cookie jar.

Cats are very strange creatures.

Posted by laurie at 9:20 AM

March 16, 2009

Beware the ides of March!

Technically, I guess the Ides of March occurred yesterday but as I am a freewheeling sort of superstitious, I think it can coincide nicely with Friday the 13th through March 16th, a Monday.

I don't usually go a whole week with nothing to say unless I am off gallivanting around and I assure you there was no gallivanting going on with me last week, just work work work.

bumper-Iowe.jpg
Not my vehicle, but apropos.

And I've been trying this new thing where if you haven't got anything nice (happy, funny, ridiculous, etc.) to say, don't say anything at all, and last week was definitely a shut yo mouth! kind of week. But that is the past, and this is the Ideas Belated.

So this is funny:

transit-blackberry.jpg

That is a guy I saw in traffic this morning ... he was driving a city Transit Security vehicle and texting while driving, which is illegal in California. I feel very safe. Luckily, taking pictures of transit authorities driving while texting isn't illegal. Yet! I love taking pictures of people in traffic, it's one of my greatest little indulgences. That and online Scrabble. And wine. And cats:

kitties-a-la-pillow.jpg

Have you ever seen anything cuter in your whole life? You're lying if you say yes. I just woke up and there they were, Bob sleeping on the other pillow and Frankie in a little ball next to him.

bob-petting.jpg
Stop it, you're messing up my hair!

Posted by laurie at 7:20 AM

March 6, 2009

Mo' mail, mo' monkeys.

Beth C. I looovvvvveee reading about your adventures both in travel and on your life journey. I have traveled abroad alone once (to Germany in the mid 90s), but it was such an awesome experience that I can definitely understand why you would travel when and where ever you could afford at the moment.

I still travel (now with my DH) and you have inspired me to go all "carry on only" on upcoming trips. My question is...how do you fit all the things I saw in your closet (in the safe pic - 3.6.9) into a carry on? I know you utilize the cube theory, but also know this is more for organization than for space. I'd love your input.

Here is the picture of the hotel closet once more:

And here are my cubes and luggage:

Yup, all that stuff fit inside that one little 17 inch carryon bag. Also if you closely in the closet picture you can see my littlest packing cubes there on the shelf beneath the hotel safe, and inside those cubes I have my t-shirts, pajama shirt & pants, undies and socks and a hat and scarf.

So here is what I have found works for me (I have really only traveled to cold places or cities in winter or fall, so this is my cold-weather list) for a trip of three to five days.

Three thin sweaters (these are the inexpensive but awesome Mossimo sweaters they had on sale last year at Target. They're thin but quite warm.)

Four thin-ish T-shirts for layering underneath (by the way, I am a human heater so I generally tend toward hot flashes and not so much toward always being cold)

Five pairs of undies and five pairs of socks, I ended up washing out a couple of things in the sink and letting them dry on the heated towel rack overnight which was fine.

Four pairs of black pants, one is a pair of black jeans.

One pair of yoga pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt for sleeping (hotel heating in some European cities tends toward the "nonexistent" side, plus I love lounging in my PJs. Yoga pants can also double as pants for the plane ride home if needed.

On the plane ride to my destination I layer. Pants, dark-colored 3/4 length-sleeve T-shirt, sweater on top and I wear or carry my coat on the plane. I put my gloves in the coat pockets if I can, and I try to take my scarf on the plane, too, unless it's 300 degrees in Los Angeles the day I leave. My little Asus eeePC laptop fits into the zippered front pocket of my rolling bag, along with a book. I pack my guidebook and map at the bottom of my suitcase and stuff in a small travel umbrella and a couple of snack bars. One should always travel with a snack.

In my carry-on shoulder bag I take:
iPod
Headphones (I have the noise-canceling ones that make commuting on the bus so much nicer)
Spiral notebook and pen
Stupid ziploc baggie of 3-oz liquids -- usually a travel size conditioner (hotels seem to have shampoo but never conditioner) plus contact solution, lotion, toothpaste, etc.
One clear zippered cosmetic bag with my other necessaries, such as deodorant, soap (yes, I bring a small bar of Dove unscented white soap in a baggie), travel-size kleenex, wet wipes, my comb, toothbrush, lip balm, ear plugs, eye mask, and a little selection of medicines like Motrin, some sleeping tablets, Xanax because I am a nervous flier, antacid just in case and sudafed. For traveling light I am surprisingly well-prepared.
My travel documents -- printouts of my airline confirmation or e-ticket, hotel details and confirmation, and any other useful papers. I usually take my phrasebook on the plabne and I always load my ipod with Pimsleur Language stuff from the library before I leave.
A gallon-size ziploc with my knitting yarn, needles and blunt scissors (More on the TSA's guidelines for knitting and needlepoint here.)
Inside my shoulderbag is my little travel purse with my wallet, US Dollars, Euros or local currency, passport and phone. I carry chargers with me for my ipod and phone and include the converters. Sometimes if I have room I pack the converters in my rolling bag. I use the Euro Surge most often, and I carry this multi-region converter with me as backup. You MUST be sure your appliance chargers are dual currency before using them, though, or you woill also need a currency converter (the plugs I carry just convert American plug sized into foreign plug sizes, they do not adjust for currency.) You can check your battery power pack and it will tell you, like so:

I think that's about all I carry. I leave my keys at home and just travel with my house key. I bring along one of my trusty Envirosax bags, and I have a small makeup bag in my purse, too, with powder, lipstick and mascara. I usually only take a pair of earrings on vacation and I wear them on the plane, and I have a little necklace with a clock that I wear.

There are two things I keep meaning to pack and keep forgetting:
1) My small travel alarm clock. It's a great thing to have since a lot of hotels don't have clocks (weird) and I've been using my cellphone as a wake-up call because I don't always trust the hotel's wake-up call.
2) A washcloth! I have yet to visit a European hotel that provides face cloths. And I love using a washcloth.

So that's what I pack. It sure sounds like a lot but it all seems to fit. I generally pack the night before and I make a list as I go of things I don't want to forget, like my passport and eyeglasses and I cross them off the list as I pack. Without my list I would be lost.


Mara T. said: I use a small nail clipper (with no file attached)for snipping yarn when I fly.
After losing a number of scissors (folding, small, rounded, it didn't matter) and a
nail clipper that had a fold out nail file, I started taking a baby nail clipper and
that has worked well for me.


That's a great idea! I have also heard folks say they use a dental floss cutter to cut yarn, though I haven't tried it.

One thing I kind of realize as a trade-off for traveling light is that you just can't take everything. As soon as I get into a new place I settle in and then head for a local grocery store and buy water, a few snacks, wine and a wine bottle opener. I have learned to say "wine bottle opener" in five different languages! You just can't carry a corkscrew on an airplane. So I buy a cheapy one when I get somewhere, because I love having a glass of local wine at night before going to bed, watching some local TV and relaxing in the hotel.

I just had to accept that if I wanted to keep on with this little tradition AND also do carryon only, I would have to buy corkscrews all over the world. I am fine with that. Ditto scissors, if I had my tiny blunt knitting scissors confiscated I would just buy another pair.

I used to think there was just no real upside to traveling light and only taking a carry-on bag plus your personal item (purse, shoulder bag, whatever.) I kept thinking I would forget something or I wouldn't have enough clothes and there have definitely been toimes where I've forgotten stuff. And I have run out of clothes and found myself washing out socks in the hotel sink.

But the major upside of the carry-on only situation comes when you have a short trip and you can rest easy about a tight connection because you're SURE your luggage is on the plane with you. I can't tell you how many times I have stood there at the luggage conveyor belt just waiting anxiously and never seeing my bag.

And when you come back to the U.S. you have to collect your luggage at the first arrival city -- meaning if your final destination is Los Angeles and you fly from Paris to Dallas to L.A., you have to get off the plane in Dallas, go through Passport Control, wait for your bags to arrive on the luggage belt, collect your bags and go through customs, then re-check your bag after customs and then go find your connecting flight. With just a carry-on, you go through passport control, continue on to Customs (as your fellow passengers await their luggage) and breeze off to your connecting flight. You don't have to worry if your bag will make it home with you. And when you arrive at your final destination city, you get off the plane and you're done! You just go home.

I never in a million years thought I could travel light but now that I've started it seems to get easier with every trip. If I were going on a long vacation to one place I'd probably check a bag, and of course if you want to have a wardrobe change twice a day and take multiple shoes you have to check a bag. But for my brief weekend-plus trips, the carry-on method seems to be working great.


- - -

hristina T. asks:

message: All right, I'll bite since no one else has written to ask you this. (Or
they have, and you're just not answering it on the blog. What type of
question-and-answer service do you think you're running?!) What type of purse or bag
do you carry when you're sightseeing? I'm off to France at the end of this month,
and I've yet to find anything that fits everything I need, looks remotely
fashionable, and allows me to be somewhat hands-free when necessary. Additionally, I
have a gimpy, cartilidge-less, painful shoulder on one side, so if I take a handbag
I am FORCED to carry it in my left. I just don't want to carry a handbag around all
day!

Were you carrying your Envirosax in your Madrid picture? I'm thinking about taking
one along on my trip for incidentals.

My necessities are: camera, smallish notebook and pen, Chapstick, small wallet, and
maybe a little room for stuff I pick up along the way.


You know, this is so much fun I think I want to abandon my real-life work and just write travel stuff all day. Wouldn't that be the coolest job ever? I'm not an expert but I would certainly travel to become one.... doesn't sound like hard work to me...

Ok, the purse. I fluctuate between wanting to look chic and wanting to be mostly hands free for walking all over town and drooling over art all day in a museum.

Sometimes I take a handbag and sometimes I take a bag with a cross-body strap. The handbag is way cuter and more fashionable but the bag with the cross-body strap is just so much more efficient. You can see it in this picture:

It's from Banana Republic, I bought it about eight years ago and it has a wide webbed strap that's adjustable. It's actually a men's camera bag, I think, but it works great for travel.

As far as handbags go, I only travel with a handbag that has a secure zippered closure (if it doesn't zip closed I won't travel with it) and also the bag must have an interior zippered pocket large enough for my wallet and passport if needed. I also don't travel abroad with my favorite beloved patent-leather black Coach bucket bag. I usually take a cute little bag I found at Target for $20. After all, I don't want to spend my vacation worrying about my handbag.

Posted by laurie at 11:02 AM

More mail: my brain, your brain, travel and Boggle.

Thank you to all the people who emailed me to assure me you also have weird vague half-memories and that my poor oatmeal brain can stop rotting if I do crosswords. Even if you're just saying it to be nice, I still appreciate it.

Jane M. wrote: I choose not to think that the gray matter is dying. I choose that, since I've lived a long and interesting (giggle, giggle, tee, who am I kidding)life, I have too much stuff to remember. So, I have to let some of it go. Gone are the names of important people in my life, brother, sister, cat, etc. Instead, I shall remember the theme song to Dark Shadows. You're probably too young to remember that soap opera but it was the Twilight series of my day. Gone are the memories of where I'm supposed to be for a meeting today. I shall remember the names of everyone's pet instead of their owners. Sheesh! The brain is a weird animal!

Now that just cracked me up. I personally can remember every word of every 80s song, the names and killer lines of every character in every John Hughes movie from 1983-1989 and I have an encyclopedic memory for commercial jingles.

Of course last week I gave someone the wrong phone number because I couldn't remember my ACTUAL, CORRECT home phone number but whatever.

Ksenija wrote: Hi Laurie! I'm around your age, too, and I tell you what has really had me questioning all my memories lately is signing up for Facebook and having all those people from my past find me...and, um, I didn't realize I went through high school in such a fog, but I just can't remember very many of them. But they remember me? Yikes!

Well that is exactly why I will not sign up for Facebook! Ha! And I can't imagine boring people with twitters ... "I walked into a room and forgot why." "Pondered my cuticle for almost fourteen minutes just now." "Finally broke down and called myself to get my own phone number." Honestly.

Actually, I have an even worse confession about high school memories. Last year my friend Chris (who I graduated high school with) reminded me of "that funny time we were on the bus for a school field trip and Brad said something foul to you and you reached back and slapped him. On the bus! In front of Mr. Chamberlain!" Chris just laughed and laughed. He said some folks from our graduating class get together on a regular basis and often laugh about that hee-larious incident.

And ya'll I could not even remember that event. Seriously. This little piece of historical hijinks which was being retold by my former classmates on a regular basis rang NO BELLS with me. I had apparently pulled a Scarlett O'Hara on a boy in my class right there on the bus on a field trip and yet I had no recollection at all of this momentous event.

HOWEVER, I can remember every word of every song to New Edition's Heart Break album, the first album released without Bobby Brown, featuring such hits as "Crucial" and "If It Isn't Love."

Yeah, I know. So many kinds of wrong.

- - -

Most of the email I've been getting is travel-related. I am so happy to know there are others out there who also get excited talking about travel and dreaming about travel and fantasizing about where to go next. I keep watching fares drop lower and lower (Roundtrip from LAX to Moscow on American Airlines for under $700!!) and I mentally weigh the cost of traveling against my free-floating economic anxiety multiplied by the square root of how much I have to pay in taxes divided by whether or not I think the world ends in 2012. It's hard to say where the math ends up.


Mary S. writes: Next time you get asked about "beginner" destinations for people who haven't traveled before -- in addition to England, Canada, Australia, etc, may I suggest Scandanavia? Norway's required basic proficiency in English to graduate from high school since WWII, and Denmark requires either English or German. I've had the luck to visit both -- didn't get to spend any time in the capital of either, but I'll attest to the friendliness of people in the smaller cities. Aalesund, Norway, and Aalborg, Denmark. Loved them.
Keep up the good work,
Mary

Mary, thanks for the reminder! And you are so right -- I LOVED every place I've visited in Scandinavia and it was safe, easy to get around and exceptionally beautiful. I've been to Sweden twice on accident (that long story is buried in this column somewhere) and taken long driving trips through both Norway and Denmark. Skagen, Denmark and Bergen, Norway are two of my favorite places ever. I want to go to Finland soon, it's actually on my Top Five List of Places I want To See Very Soon. That list includes: Ireland, Finland, Chile, Poland (again) and Estonia.

Oh -- Iceland is also one of the best destinations EVER for vacation. And now that their currency is devalued it's half the price it used to be. I recommend going in late June, the weather is perfect but it's not so crowded with tourists yet. And rent a car and drive! It's the most gorgeous countryside I have ever been to in my life.

Janet H. writes: Hi, can you still take knitting needles on planes as airlines are so strict about what can be taken as hand luggage? I'm not a good flyer and knitting would take my mind off the 30,000 ft below me! I enjoy reading your blog. Janet

Hi Janet! A lot of people emailed to ask this same question! According to the TSA website (and all the flights I have taken) it is totally OK to bring knitting needles on a plane, although from personal experience I would only bring wood or plastic knitting needles. Circular needles are good, too, and I usually travel with a small project (in other words, I have never tried to get through security with size 19 gigantor wooden needles.)

You can read the TSA's special page on knitting needles here. Usually I bring wooden/bamboo needles in size 10 or smaller and keep them with my project in a ziploc bag. In the bag I also travel with a very small pair of Hello Kitty scissors (about two inches long all total) with blunt ends, they're useless for any real precision cutting but I can saw through yarn just fine. I have had no problems with them in security. Your mileage may vary.

One word of advice: Don't bring along your best, most expensive needles, even if they are wood. I always travel with a basic pair of $7 clover needles, because if I get turned away at security -- which has not yet happened -- I figure I won't cry over $7. I'm not going to haul around a pre-stamped envelope and I don't check a bag much anymore, so I just hope for the best. It's worked out so far.

airplaneknitting.jpg
Knitting en route to somewhere!

Shelia W. writes: How do you get those knitting needles on the plane, especially if you have a carry-on? I've wanted to bring my needlepoint with me but I figured they'd confiscate my needle/scissors.

Shelia, I looked at the TSA's special page for Transporting Knitting Needles & Needlepoint and here's what it says specifically about needlepoint:

Most of the items needed to pursue a Needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage with the exception of circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade contained inside. These items cannot be taken through a security checkpoint. They must go in your checked baggage.

Hope that helps! The TSA has a whole area on their website just for travelers preparing for a trip if you have other questions. And you can call your airlines directly if you have a specific issue, sometimes they have more details. By the way, if you are flying out of an overseas airport you need to check the airport's website to see what they do and do not allow through security (Heathrow especially) because their rules for carryon allowances and prohibited items may be different.

The TSA's list of prohibited items is here for your reference.


- - -

RoseAnna wrote: I've loved hearing about your travels. I love traveling, though strangely enough I hate flying--its very stressful for me. But once I get where I am going I love visiting new places. Reading your travel descriptions always makes me want to visit the places that you write about (I would love to visit Madrid, for example).

But I was concerned when you said that you left your passport in your hotel in a safe. You've probably been alright in the countries you've visited, as you've always picked safe, stable places to go, but I know when I was in Mexico my host family freaked out that I had left my passport at home--and I was just going out to
eat with my host family, who knew who I was and what I was doing in Mexico. They told me I should never, ever leave home without my passport because it was the only proof of who I was.

To be fair, this was toward the end of the zapatista rebellion and the Mexican government was cracking down on suspected insurgents and kicking out a lot of foreigners on the grounds of suspected involvement--but I wasn't in the states where the zapatistas were, and I was just a student, taking classes for the semester at the local university, so it didn't occur to me that I might need it on me to prove my American citizenship etc.

But in a lot of countries, that American citizenship is an important protection, so it's a good idea to have your passport with you at all times. What I was told to do was to photocopy my passport, particularly the page with all your personal information, so that if your passport was lost or stolen you had that to show the embassy to facilitate getting it replaced. And if you have a travel visa for that country, do the same thing with that--photo copy the original and put the photocopy in a safe place, and keep the original with your passport.

Also, I carried my passport in one of those money-belts that go under your clothes so that it was less likely to be lost or stolen.

Anyway, safe travels! May you have many more enjoyable trips and knitting adventures :)

Hi RoseAnna! Thanks for the email.

The passport thing and the moneybelt thing are topics that come up time and time again on travel forums. I think a lot of this depends on the traveler, the place being visited and even the time of year.

When I went to Rome last winter, I was so scared after reading guidebooks and travel forums warning of pickpockets and "roaming gangs of thieving children" that even I got paranoid! But when I got there I realized Rome in February was no more dangerous or risky than Los Angeles at any time of year and I mellowed out. I didn't walk around with a hundred dollar bill to my butt yelling "Victim!" but I wasn't overly paranoid either.

I'm careful by nature because I've lived in this crazyass city for so long. When traveling, I do in any major city as I do in Los Angeles: I carry a purse and keep my hand on it. I travel with a little wallet in an inner zippered pocket and in the wallet I just have my two travel credit cards, a little walking around cash for the day, my list of important numbers and contacts and a photocopy of my passport. This works for me because the one thing I do NOT want to lose is my passport. Last year I FINALLY (!!!) got a decent passport picture that makes me look only semi-portly and I am not letting go of it as it is a vast improvement over my previous picture. Besides, losing a passport is a time-consuming adventure I do not want to experience. To get on the plane and go home you have to be holding that passport!

I know a lot of people disagree with me and my methods of traveling but I just do what works for me. I could never see myself fumbling under my clothes or digging around in a neck belt for money and I personally would be paranoid knowing all that stuff was on my body. To other folks, that's the only way they feel safe traveling. I think people should do whatever makes them feel safest.

And for me, that starts with picking a safe destination to visit all alone. The places I go alone are generally not in the midst of a Zapatista uprising, and in my experience a simple photocopy of the passport will do for walking around art museums and drinking wine at a cafe at lunchtime in most of Western Europe. You do need a passport in some countries for making large purchases on your credit card (which I don't do, being budgety and all) and you need it on your person if you get arrested which I generally try to avoid.

I think it's partly a personal decision and partly a risk-based assessment. I don't travel alone to risky places because safety is always my #1 concern so I am not often in a place where Federalis are stopping and asking for ID. In fact I have never been stopped and asked for my passport anywhere even on my most adventurous travels (lost in Eastern Europe ten years ago, for example.)

So it comes down to personal risk assessment and choice. In my opinion, it's riskier for me to carry around my official government passport all day (in and out of restaurants, museums, metro cars, public restrooms, buses) than it is to carry a photocopy and leave the real document in the room safe or locked in my luggage in a locked hotel room. Your decision will vary based on who you are, where you travel, where you're staying and when you go. Other people may have different thoughts and will do what works for them. Traveling alone presents its own unique challenges and I think each person eventually strikes a balance of common sense and precaution that works for them.

When I'm relating my travel stories they're just my personal experiences, I know everyone has a different way of doing it and all I can speak to is my own experience.

By the way, I also find flying stressful! Knitting helps. I'm usually OK during the flight itself but take-off and landing makes me jittery.

Ruth C. writes: Hi, I have been reading about your travels and I just wanted to give you a warning about hotel safes. The hotel always has a way to get into the safe--they have to in case some dodo forgets the combo they set. I have been told to NEVER use them. Instead, I bought a neck travel pouch and keep extra money and my passport hidden close to my body, under my clothes at all times. Yes, it can get hot in warm climates and my passport looks a little worn. Probably should put it in a small plastic baggy . . . but, I know it's safe. If you set up the strap so it goes through one arm, the strap can be pinned or looped around your bra strap, the bag hangs at your side and is virtually undetectable. Just an idea.

I have been told that depending upon the political climate of the US at the time and the country you are traveling in, a US passport can be a valuable item on the black market and are the subject of theft. That was years ago, but I don't doubt it today either.
Ruth

Hi Ruth! Apparently the hotel safe/passport topic struck a nerve with folks as I got a fair amount of email about it. My trip to Madrid was the first time I've used the hotel safe, and it was AWESOME. It was a pretty new-looking safe with great instructions on how to use it and set your own pin number and everything.

Here's a picture:

madrid-roomsafe1.jpg

And a close-up of the safe:

madrid-roomsafe2.jpg

I loved it. I used it every day for my laptop, ipod and passport. I had no problems at all and found it convenient and easy to use. Usually I just carry a combo lock with me and lock my stuff in my luggage for the day. That is definitely just as easy to walk off with as the safe key from the front desk or whatever but my philosophy is you do what you can to mitigate risk and then you let go. And I am just not interested in carrying all my valuables on my person in a moneybelt or some necklace thingy. To me that seems way riskier that a hotel safe in a well-reviewed four star hotel -- but that's just me. Other folks wholeheartedly disagree, and they should do what feels best to them.

The way I see it, there's always risk. There's risk in walking across the street in your own neighborhood. Nothing I travel with is irreplaceable or rare or even that sentimental. I mean I would hate to lose my beloved ipod, but it happened once (right here on the bus in good ol' Los Angeles) and I survived. I don't get on the bus every day worrying about losing my ipod, though, or my wallet. If I did that I would drive myself insane.

Everyone has to base their decisions on how they feel about the location, the hotel, the staff, the quality of the establishment, the reviews you've read about the hotel (trust me if someone experienced a theft in their room safe the Trip Advisor forums would alert you to it) and your gut instinct. You also have to consider where you're traveling, the political and social climate and the risk.

I guess I had to make a choice at some point in traveling to either worry prohibitively about theft and fear pickpockets and thieves and miscreants ... or to just take normal precautions and make smart choices and then let go and enjoy the trip, wherever that may take me. After all, I doubt many people living in Paris or Madrid or Rome or Prague or Stockholm walk around all day long in the city wearing their passport and all their money in a pouch under their clothes. I know we don't do that here in Los Angeles. (That begs the question... do people from other countries come to Los Angeles and wear their passports and all their money in hidden pouches? That seems really unsafe to me. But maybe to someone else it's a good idea.)

So as always it comes down to what works for the individual. What works for me may not work for everyone. Also, keep in mind that I'm not out roaming the jungles of South America alone with my backpack and valuables. I was staying in a major Western European capital city in a hotel with heated towel racks and room service and a nicer TV than what I have in my own house. You know?

I'm definitely not a travel expert and I don't talk about my travels for instructional guidance ... I'm just sharing my little personal adventures and taking pictures of exit signs:

madrid-exit.jpg


- - -


A few knitting questions, too:

Robin asks: HELP! I'm behind on making a birthday present. I want to make a felted bag. Will 100% acrylic yarn work? Or must I use wool? THANK YOU!!!!

Robin, I hate to be the bearer of misfelted news (heh) but you can't felt 100% acrylic yarn. You can't even felt all wool yarns -- superwash wool will not felt, and some wool that is extremely bleached out doesn't felt well, either (take it from someone who tried to felt a white wool bag 12 times.) But on the upside there are tons of yarns out there at your local yarn shop and craft store made especially for felting. The Patons line of feltable wool yarn is GREAT and I've heard good things about Lion Brand's wool yarn, too. Noro is lovely and felts (eventually) and my favorite of all is Patons SWS (Soy Wool Stripes) yarn which is a felting maniac.

- - -

I love your handwarmers (great colors!) and I'm totally going to make some for myself. I hate seaming, though, so I had an idea. Why not knit them in the round? When you get to the thumb just start knitting back and forth, then re-join into a round after the thumb and continue until you're done. I think that would work, don't you? -Alison


Hi Alison! I've heard from many folks who warm their hands by knitting in the round and making lovely tubes and I think it is a great idea. For my first handwarmer project I just wanted to make a pattern so simple that any beginner could do it and sometimes folks get skeered off with knitting in the round, especially for a small piece requiring the DPNoD (Double-Pointed Needles of Death.)

I have had a few folks email me links to patterns with thumbs but the handwarmer I wanted to make needed to be easy easy so any beginner could do it and ALSO made out of my brain (sad and degenerating as it is) so I'm not infringing upon anyone if I want to print it or give it away. Sad to say I have yet to take the time out to pick up my stitches and make a thumb though I hope to get to it this weekend. I'll write that portion up to in a hand+thumb warmer combo pattern when I manage to make a thumb worthy of writing home about.

- - -

So, yesterday Corey and I played Boggle at lunchtime to help my poor foggy brain smarten up and I managed not to embarrass myself after a few games. We played four games and she won two and I won two which is pretty good. I'm glad she's really competitive (and smart) because I have to work extra hard and can't just daydream while looking at the letters. Hence the entire reason for playing Boggle, to keep me on my brain-toes!

boggleathon.jpg

That's rice and beans in the middle there that I brought for lunch. It's cheap and nutritious and perfect for bringing to work (it's filling, too). I cook the rice and the beans separate and then when everything is cooked I line up my little lunch containers and fill them up with a scoop and a half of rice topped with a couple of scoops of beans. I can easily make five lunches (and sometimes two extra to freeze) in one afternoon.

I used organic brown basmati rice, though I think plain old organic brown rice would hold up better. Basmati seems a little soft and mushy even though I cooked it according to the package instructions (2 cups of rice to four cups of liquid -- I used chicken broth) and then simmer for 50 minutes.

For the beans, I used two cans of organic black beans simmered with half of a finely diced yellow onion and about four small cloves of garlic run through a garlic press. Just let it simmer until the garlic is mild and the onion is soft. I also added hot sauce to the beans for kick.

Usually I use dried beans which are cheaper and I think they taste better, but canned was all I had in the pantry last Sunday and they cooked up just fine. I figured up the cost once -- making a big mess of rice and beans comes out to about 50 cents per meal, and that's using all-organic ingredients. I can eat rice and beans all week without getting tired of it, it's just such a comforting meal, but I usually make more than I need for lunches and freeze a few servings for future lunches. I try to do this with everything I make -- eat half and freeze half, so that I have variety in the freezer and I can have chili one day or soup the next. So far my two favorite recipes of all time (and they freeze GREAT) are chicken and white bean chili -- delicious!! -- and kale and chickpea stew. The secret to the stew is you have to use a great spicy sausage because it gives most of the flavor to the dish. I use a spicy Italian-style sausage from Whole Foods that has some kick to it and it's the best stew ever.

This weekend I want to find some new recipe to make. I've discovered that if I spend a few hours on Sunday grocery shopping, preparing a meal for my lunches and getting all my snacks and stuff together for the week I tend to have a better, more productive and easy week. And I eat better.

It's a process, anyway. I guess I'll just keep trying and trying again to get healthy until I get it right.

- - -

Finally....

sobathoughts.jpg

She can read my mind ... even when I can't!

Posted by laurie at 7:51 AM

March 5, 2009

From their bumpers to your ears.

Two very different life messages, two very different cars:

bumperstickers-coexist.jpg
(Antique-ish Mercedes that also had a sticker letting folks know it runs on soy fuel.)

bumperstickers-vietnam.jpg
(Huge white truck with camper top and an NRA license plate holder.)

I love looking at people's messages ... they don't have to pin their hearts on their sleeves, they can just put some stickers on their cars. It's very liberating. It's like reading the tarot cards of someone's personality through the sayings they select to represent them.

That last picture was taken yesterday, in the rain:

bumpersticker-vietnam-rain.jpg


As I was sitting there, completely stopped in my Jeep with rain coming down lightly on the windshield, I remembered there used to be a time when I liked the rain. No, I loved the rain. Rain makes everything cozy and close, and your neighbors are quiet (for once) because they're indoors, too, shuttered inside with maybe a good book or a movie or nothing at all, just laying on the bed and listening to it rain.

But now when it rains I don't think any of those thoughts, I just groan and mentally calculate how many hours it will add to my commute that day, and try to decide if it's worth driving all the way out to the Metrolink station and taking the train or whether the drive to the station would negate any time savings and I'd be just as late sitting it out on the bus that leaks and never comes on time. That's what I think of when I look out in the morning and see it raining -- not appreciation for the weather (especially in a place like Los Angeles, where it only rains five or six days a year) but instead a deep visceral sigh of despair, because of the traffic.

- - -

So, something very weird happened to me over the weekend. It was late Saturday and I was watching Wag the Dog for the nine billionth time (it's one of my all-time favorite movies, I have it memorized, scary) and there's a scene where they're filming the news footage against a blue screen and I had a flash -- a tattered memory -- of me, many years ago, working as a Production Assistant for a day on a set with a blue screen.

And I was all foggy-brained. I could remember the blue screen studio, getting someone coffee, eating sandwiches in a hurry and the jeans I wore. But it was hazy, almost like remembering a dream. And I just sat there, struggling in my own head, because I couldn't remember if it had really happened or if I had dreamed it or seen it maybe in a movie. But it felt real, it felt like it had happened and I vaguely remember me being in L.A. for just a year or so and taking a one-day job as a P.A. when I was still working part-time at the Daily News.

And I sat there on my bed with this fragmented memory -- me! me who is able to remember details of conversations I had with people ten years ago down to the pause -- and I wondered if this was it. If this was the moment, then, when I officially began to go crazy. Swimming in the grey matter somewhere was this half-real, half-remembered day and I couldn't fully access it. I wondered if this was what it felt like to become untethered slowly, one day at a time 'til crazy. Maybe it was only weeks or months before I'd be taking direct orders from a Pepsi can and wearing my bra on my head.

On Monday I told this disturbing incident to my friend Corey, who assured me she had also started having little half-memory incidents like that just in the past few years and she said maybe it's just part of aging, and her theory is that your brain does start slowly degenerating at this age and maybe you sometimes catch on a thought just as your brain is throwing it out (as ya'll know, I love crazyass theories and this one sounded good to me so I agreed with it.)

Except I don't want my brain to turn to oatmeal! I don't want my brain to slowly shrivel and mold. My brain is really the only thing interesting about me. I'm not tall or skinny or pretty or musically talented or even a natural platinum blonde anymore. Sadly. But my brain has always been a good companion, and it's always come in handy when called upon to get me out of boring or tedious or deranged situations. (Not so much useful in awkward situations -- just yesterday morning the EVP of our division came into the kitchen as I was getting coffee and said, "Good morning! How are you today?" and I replied not with "Fine, thanks and you?" or even just "OK." No. No siree. My awesome degenerating brain said, "I'm fine except there are no paper towels. So I asked myself, 'What would Al Gore do?' and I decided he would use a coffee filter to dry his cup." And the EVP just smiled politely at me, the poor slow employee.) (Thanks, brain.)

When I realized that my brain was experiencing aging and moldyness, I did what anyone who is in danger of a rapidly degenerating brain would do and I googled "how to keep your brain healthy." According to the internet you can keep your brain alive with Sudoku (I'll pass) or crosswords or by playing a musical instrument or learning a new language or reading. And something I never heard of before, must be a Latin word ... "exercise." Not sure how it's pronounced.

Corey suggested we play Boggle to help my dying brain and I thought that was an EXCELLENT idea, as I have an almost-never-used Boggle game sitting at my house and it only takes three minutes with that little sand timer to play a game, which fits into my schedule. We played one game yesterday and she soundly kicked my ass, but I didn't mind since my brain is DYING and also I hadn't had my coffee yet. We're going to start playing Boggle at lunchtime every day to help resuscitate my soft pudding brain so I don't end up wearing my bra on my head and answering my shoe when the phone rings.

- -

bumper-oilchange.jpg
Maybe my brain needs an oil change.

Posted by laurie at 7:10 AM

March 3, 2009

My hands are officially warmed.

Really, the hardest thing about making armwarmers is the part where you try to take a picture of your own arm to show off your HANDiwork:

armwarmer-noro1.jpg
Hello! Weird stilted pose taken with other arm, upside down. Also known as "Still life with stilted arm."

I am officially totally and completely addicted to making handwarmer-armwarmer thingies. This is the natural evolution of the scarf! It's one little rectangle seamed up with a hole left in the side for your thumb to poke through.

armwarmer-noro2.jpg

I made these gorgeous multicolored long-length armwarmers while I was traveling (nothing is better than spending hours uninterrupted just knitting ... nowhere to be, no phone calls to make, no internet, no mail, no to-do list ... just you trapped on an airplane, knitting and listening to your ipod. That is my idea of heaven.)

I used two skeins of Noro Silk Garden in color #13 (pinks, greys and browns with purple, too) and I made two sets of armwarmers from all that yarn. You can very easily make one single set of long armwarmers from just one skein but I used two skeins because I wanted my long armwarmers to be the exact same striping pattern. I can be picky that way. With Noro, I find sometimes it's easier to knit from two skeins so you can start each project (like two identical armwarmers) on the same color.

These were knit on size 7 needles. For finishing, I didn't use any fancy shmancy knitting technique for the seam, I just sewed up the sides and tied the yarn off and then weaved the ends in.


Long-ish armwarmers in 2x2 ribbing

1 skein Noro Silk Garden Lite
1 set size 7 straight needles
One large-eye yarn needle for seaming

Cast on 40 stitches loosely. If you need to, cast on using a size 8 needle to get a loose cast-on edge.

Work in a knit 2, purl 2 ribbing for the entire piece. My armwarmers are about 12 inches long. Cast off, leaving a long yarn tail (you can use it for seaming.)

Thread yarn through a large-eye yarn needle and sew up the sides lengthwise, leaving a 1.5 inch opening for the thumb (or less if you want.)

I used the leftover yarn in each skein to create another set, a shorter set of handwarmers that are brown with pink and purple on the edges. And I tried two different versions of ribbing, my long armwarmers are a smaller rib and the handwarmers are a wider rib. I like them both!

The handwarmers are shorter in length and I left a smaller hole for the thumb, since these are the ones I plan to use for making a thumb gusset. For now, though, these are just simple as pie! I didn't measure the gauge because I think ribbing is hard to measure correctly. My hands are pretty big and my friend Corey has super-small hands, and these fit us both because ribbing is so giving, so I think you'll be fine knitting these without a gauge to go by.

armwarmer-noro3.jpg


armwarmer-noro4.jpg
The one on the left is the handwarmer before being sewn up, the one on the right is already seamed together.


Handwarmers in 4x4 ribbing

1 skein Noro Silk Garden Lite
1 set size 7 straight needles
One large-eye yarn needle for seaming

Cast on 40 stitches loosely. If you need to, cast on using a size 8 needle to get a loose cast-on edge.

Work in a knit 4, purl 4 ribbing for the entire piece. My handwarmers are about 8 inches long. Cast off, leaving a long yarn tail (you can use it for seaming.)

Thread yarn through a large-eye yarn needle and sew up the sides lengthwise, leaving a 1.5 inch opening for the thumb (or less if you want.)

Voila! Wear and be warmed.


Posted by laurie at 7:52 AM